Mason leads No. 2 Kansas into road game against Iowa State (Jan 16, 2017)
The Big 12 is driven by elite point guards.
Yet Kansas senior Frank Mason has separated himself during the 5-0 start the Jayhawks (16-1 overall) have managed as the conference leader.
Entering a game on Monday against Iowa State (11-5, 3-2) in Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, Mason has led No. 2 Kansas in scoring 13 times while averaging a league-high 20.5 points. He also averages 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds.
His value, based on sheer consistency and the 35.2 minutes he averages, makes Mason a candidate for national player of the year.
In fact, Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood told Mason just that in the postgame handshake line on Saturday after the Jayhawks held off the Cowboys 87-80 for their 16th straight win.
Kansas coach Bill Self, however, remains cautious about giving Mason any decorative props.
"I can get on to him and he can frustrate me. I'm not going to take him for granted," Self said after the Oklahoma State win. "He does some things, like we came out of timeouts twice trying to run something and he screwed it up.
"You guys don't ever see that. So he does plenty to get you p----- at him. But he's so competitive and he just seems to make plays. Today he was average, but he competed hard."
Hearing he was average drives Mason much more than any glowing compliments.
He conceded that Underwood's praise was nice. He also acknowledged the Big 12 is filled with good point guards, including his counterpart for Iowa State, senior Monte Morris.
Mason, however, insists he only cares about the victories that Kansas is amassing.
"It's about the team, how we play moving forward and not how I play," Mason said.
Facilitating teammates is essential too and was evident against Oklahoma State when three 20-point scorers emerged from the Jayhawks' backcourt. Mason scored a team-high 22 points, junior Devonte' Graham chipped in 21 and freshman Josh Jackson had 20.
Iowa State will attempt to confront that trio with a deep and diverse squad. The Cyclones lead the Big 12 with nine 3-point makes on average and rank second in the conference in defensive field goal percentage (.402).
They are coming off an 84-77 loss at TCU, however, in which Morris was limited to nine points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field. He did distribute eight assists and leads the Big 12 with a 5.8 average, ranking just ahead of Mason.
Another primary scorer for Iowa State, senior guard Deonte Burton (12.4 ppg.), went just 1 of 10 against TCU and scored five points. The Horned Frogs countered with 57 percent shooting from the field.
"We didn't defend them well enough to win," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. "We weren't locked into how we needed to guard them."
A deafening home crowd typically elevates the Cyclones' intensity against the Jayhawks. Iowa State has won two straight at home in the series and seven of the last 11 meetings overall.
"They are playing more guys, working in some bigs," Self said, "and of course Burton is a matchup nightmare -- kind of like Josh is for us -- because he is a guard and they play him at the four as well. They have a good team."
Senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long leads Iowa State with a 15.7-point average. His 41 makes from 3-point range ranks second in the Big 12.